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Myanmar: Systematic attack on civilians, rights mechanism revealed

Preliminary evidence shows a widespread and systematic attack on civilians in Myanmar in the wake of the coup in February, amounting to crimes against humanity, the head of a fact-finding body established by the UN Human Rights Council said on Friday.

Nicholas Koumjian of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was updating journalists on its work to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations committed in the country.

The mechanism was created two years ago and prepares files that can facilitate criminal prosecutions in national, regional and international tribunals.

New challenges


While its mandate covers the period from 2011, “our work has faced new challenges and opportunities due to the military coup and the subsequent events that have occurred,” said Koumjian, referring to rising violence following the military takeover on Feb. 1.

“We announced soon after the coup that the coup itself is not within our mandate. Issues of constitutionality, of change of leadership, of elections, is not a serious international crime within our mandate,” he said, speaking in New York.

“However, being aware of the history of political violence in Myanmar, we were concerned, and we would be watching and collecting evidence if such crimes occur.”

Verifying preliminary evidence


The mechanism has received more than 200,000 communications since the coup, and has collected more than 1.5 million items of evidence, such as photographs, videos, testimonies and social media posts.

“We do feel now having observed the events and collected preliminary evidence that the facts show a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population amounting to crimes against humanity,” Koumjian said.

“So, we'll be collecting and attempting to verify that preliminary evidence and that has also created many opportunities for us because we receive so many communications, particularly from people inside Myanmar urging us to accomplish some type of accountability, asking us to bring people to account and end the violence that's happening there.”

Patterns in violence


Koumjian said the mechanism noted certain patterns in the violence, which is how it determined the crimes appeared to be a widespread and systemic attack on civilians, given that members had no access to Myanmar.

He reported that during the first six weeks of the coup, security forces took a “measured response” towards demonstrations.

However, later there was an “uptick in violence”, with more violent methods used to suppress protestors, and which was taking place in different areas at the same time, “indicating to us it would be logical to conclude this was from a central policy.”

Additionally, particular groups such as journalists, medical workers and political opponents, were also being targeted for arrest and detention, without due legal process.

Koumjian would neither say how many files the mechanism has compiled to date, nor who is named in them. “I want everyone who committed such offenses to worry that the file’s on them,” he said.

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